The One and Only Ivan

Written by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao.
2013 Newbery Medal Winner

Overall rating: 5/5. Holy sh*t you guys, this book did nothing less than blow my mind. Which is rare. Not even specifically for the YA genre, but overall – it’s rare. I opened this book before I went to bed intending to read a little bit before falling asleep and instead stayed up way too late to finish the whole thing in one sitting. An incredible read.

Summary (as taken from the book’s Amazon listing): Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home – and his own art – through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Story: 5/5
Okay, perhaps I should have reflected back on my childhood before digging into this book. Turns out Katherine Applegate is the K.A. Applegate behind the popular Animorphs book series. The Animorphs books, were, for lack of a better word.. “harsh.” They were scary, heavy, and definitely gave me nightmares on more than one occasion.

Anywho, The One and Only Ivan definitely mimics the intensity. It strikes the most painful chords while still being under a fifth grade reading level. I am not exaggerating when I say that I full on WEPT at regular intervals throughout the book. Ouch. Maybe I’m just a huge baby (it’s likely), but it isn’t such a far fetched reaction after reading pages like this one;
Like, seriously? Seriously!? This book is just filled to the brim with “human guilt” triggers. Perhaps I am a masochist, but I LOVED it – my vegetarianism felt entirely justified!

While being told from the first person view of Ivan, who is a gorilla, it doesn’t even for a moment come off as silly or gimmicky. Applegate did a beautiful job imagining what a gorilla’s inner monologue would read like.

The story progresses as Ivan starts to come to terms with his past, his captivity, and his relationship with his caretaker as well as his zoo-mates.

Characters: 4/5
*Let it be known I am only taking away a rating point because I kinda felt like I HAD to. Nothing is absolutely perfect and I had to attempt to criticize something.

One stupid pet peeve I have when it comes to books – specifically books featuring animals as the main character – is continuity. Watership Down, one of my favorite books of all time, is entirely about rabbits. What I find to be especially spectacular about Watership Down is that the rabbits never once do anything that they don’t do in the wild. There’s no walking on hind legs, no magic powers, no free communication between species (you have to imagine there’s a dialect/language barrier), etc. If I have to criticize something about The One and Only Ivan it’s just that. There are moments in the book where the animal characters act more human than animal despite being unable to do these things for most of the book. It’s like these abilities only occur when needed to further the story. Weak!

Outside of that, they’re all brilliant.

Ivan is gentle, intelligent, and easy-going. His voice is humble and inquisitive. The concept of loneliness is at first foreign to him, and his character is fleshed out in such grand detail, I can’t speak highly enough to it.

The supporting cast is written with just as much care as Ivan is, each feeling inherently unique with their own distinct personalities, goals, and needs.

The Positives
– Based on the story of a real gorilla!
– Ivan and his friends are some of the best characters I’ve read recently.
– An absolute roller coaster of emotion.

The Negatives
– Continuity
– That’s really it.

If you have an extra couple hours some afternoon, read this book. If you’re a total sap when it comes to sad animal stories, read this book. If you’re a total sap for happy animal stories, read this book. You know what? Just read this book. So worth it.

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